Occasionally a wine comes along and is completely different. Not only does it impress through its appearance in the glass, its wonderful aroma and fabulous taste but just because it is so different to anything that has come before it. Being different alone is a risky business: you run the risk of appealing only to niche audiences but if you can combine being ever-so-slightly different with beloved and traditional elements: success may be coming your way.
I am, of course, talking about the elements of taste that natural wine brings with it: the unmistakable taste of a long, full grape maceration with skins in white wine. This is an acquired taste and, when combined with zero filtration and no sulfites: this is unlikely to be a product with mass appeal. Taking the individual element of full skin maceration and then creating a “regular” wine is becoming popular practise but rarely does this practise appear in the elite world of German Großes Gewächs. Up until recently, only traditional and typical wines made the bar which makes the St. Nikolaus from Peter Jakob Kühn an exotic exception: hats off to the future-looking VDP Rheingau for approving this wine. It wears its double G with pride and yet sports its own look – like a fashion-lover wearing this season’s must-have accessory and yet remaining true to their individual style, maybe even defining which items next year will become “must-have”
There is very little else comparable in the GG realms – similarly good wines: yes but nothing that tastes like this.
Firstly it’s important to realise that this is a very young wine and it wasn’t really intended to be opened so early – the wine takes a while to fall completely into place but impresses at all stages: from straight-out-of-the-bottle at 8˚C, right through to an-hour-in-the-glass at 15˚C.
Immediately present in the nose is a delicate sense of citrus: mainly lemon peel but also a remarkably fresh aroma of honeysuckle. There is a touch of apple and, running in the background and hints of ripe, yellow apple and plenty of spice: sage, mint, a touch of smoke (possibly hinting at flint) and white pepper.
Straight out of the bottle, the wine plays a set of highs and short breaks between individual phases: it starts with fresh citrus: pink grapefruit and dried citrus peel, this vanishes and is eventually replaced by yellow fruit: yellow plum, apple but nothing too strong. This vanishes as well and is finally replaced by a unique sprinkling of sherbet to finish the wine off with sweetness, a touch of acidity and plenty of Rheingau spice. All the while a yeast-wood note runs throughout and leads into the aforementioned finish.
The highs and pauses are brought a lot closer together – the individual elements run into eachother and the citrus on the attack becomes more defined: thick, freshly-preshed grapefruit juice with lemon and Clementine peel backing it up. The body is also fuller and there are yeasty notes involved now too: lots of apple but nothing sharp (a bit like apple pie with the yeast notes)– there is a small amount of apricot in there and this leads on to the finish which has calmed down a lot and now reminds of rhubarb (unsweetened) – tart and excellently brought into white pepper, sage, mint, thyme and fresh grass.
This wine is very unique and, whilst it does carry a few elements of natural wine, it isn’t necessarily one that only freaks can enjoy. Actually it offers a bright picture of the future of this style of wine: seldom is it done as well as this and never before has it carried a GG logo on the bottle. Priced at around 40€, this wine is selling-out fast so grab it while you can!
Peter Jakob Kühn in the UK
The new VDP classification makes sense and nowhere does it make more sense than with dry wine. Unfortunately though, the middle level - Ortswein (commune wine, the German equivalent of Villages-AOC) has been, in my opinion at least, a bit disappointing up until now - rarely have the Ortsweine that I have tried in the past been noticeably better than the phenomenal quality that most Gutsweine (estate wines) are able to offer. It's not just a noticeable jump in quality you're supposed to expect but a different wine entirely - one that shows off the terroir of an individual part of a production region rather than the region as a whole.
My suggestion was rather using the middle category as a "soil wine" - many wineries already produce Gutswein with the name of the soil in the wine's name: "Schiefer Riesling" or "Grauburgunder Muschelkalk".
Thankfully though, this wine was able to prove to me that the Ortswein level does make sense and that such wines can be unbelievably good. The new series of Villages wines from Balthasar Ress have only been on the market for a few months and, as of yet, I've only tried this one - a wine made of grapes sourced solely from the vineyards in and around Rüdesheim.
With a distinct but honest note of nectarine on the nose and the faintest touch of apricot, the mineral structure props up the fruit with unique pulses of yellow apples and background notes of salt, quartz, granite and fresh green herbs.
On the palate the wine is delicate at first and the fruit comes through in a reserved way: nothing strong and sharp to take away focus from a mineral game in the background: rock competing with the fruit to remain perfectly in balance and then eventually delivering an acidic punch that immediately makes you want to take another sip. Excellent stuff - unbeleivably addictive and it makes the wine feel drier than it is.
Whereas Weingut Balthasar Ress has always been in the top half of the Rheingau Premier League, with this wine (and the very good 2015 Gutsweine I might add), they've already qualified for the Champions League. If their GG and Große Lagen sweet wines are as good as some journalists are suggesting, they might even have won the tournament this year.
Fabulous stuff. Costs around 15€
Balthasar Ress in the UK
Balthasar Ress in the US (CA)
When you think of the Rheingau, you think of Riesling and when you think of VDP Rheingau, you think of only Riesling. The idea that a member of this elite club might produce experimental wines is out of the question. However, the young team at Hattenheim’s Balthasar Ress continue to push the boundaries on German viticulture. Whereas the winery’s core range does exist around single-vineyard Riesling and Pinot Noir (also typical for the region), they also have a number of not-so-standard wines including this orange.
Orange wine is a relatively new category of wine in Germany. Whereas it is historically of huge importance, most white wine in Germany is not produced in this way and the trend is only just starting to gain momentum. The grapes are initially macerated whole for a number of weeks or months. This leads to wine with an entirely different colour and taste: the bitter elements of grape skin that are usually removed from white wine production remain in the wine, as do many other grape components. A minimal amount of work takes place in the winery and the liquids are bottled unfiltered.
Made using Pinot Blanc, this Rheingauer Landwein is a good example of easy-drinking Orange. Whereas many of the wines, particularly those from Armenia and Georgia are….let’s call it an acquired taste, this wine is enjoyable for the everyday wine drinker too. Reliant more on the winery’s fresh style than the archaic, traditional taste of Orange wine, this Pinot Blanc is more than just approachable: it’s actually both enlightening and enjoyable.
Bright, shiny orange with a cloudy appearance.
Quite a lot to start with but the wine quickly falls into place. Orange zest and grapefruit juice but also a thick sense of ripe orchard fruit. Quince and yellow apple as well as a cider note. Spice in the way of fresh pepper but also green herbs.
First on the scene is pink grapefruit and this passes through orange peel and finally onto cloudy cider: cooking apples and quince really come through on the body and a touch of apple vinegar too. Clean though, compact and remarkably easy to drink: no stone notes that don’t pair with the vibrant and ripe, stored fruit. Thanks to the sharper elements on the finish: salt, a touch of wood and the continued feel of apple vinegar, you are briefly reminded of Calvados. Excellent wood finish that is neither too strong nor lacking a backbone.
I’ve only just gotten into orange wines and this is, whilst perhaps not the most complex I’ve tried, certainly the easiest to drink. It’s both appealing but its simple: actually something that I find fits with Rheingau wine in general. I’m not 100% sure how this wine will age but I’m sure it’ll develop more with time – the wine tastes great three days later and it was opened 12 hours prior to drinking, not chilled.
A great way to get into orange wine and fairly priced too (21€/750ml bottle)
The Rheingau is one of the finest German production regions, particularly for the production of dry wines. Rather than the slate-laden soils of the Mosel and the fruity-sweet note in the wines, the Rheingau Rieslings are all about spice and mineral structure. Nevertheless, the fruit content of some of the most prestigious dry whites can be quite attractive. The struggle is to match the fruit with the spice – something many wineries manage excellently.
One such winery is Balthasar Ress in Hattenheim. This Riesling Erstes Gewächs is sourced from the Hattenheimer Grosslage Nussbrunnen: a South East facing vineyard protected from cold winds in the North and with soils high in clay content – perfect for both drainage and retaining heat.
The first thing you note is the sweetened yellow fruit: sugar apricots, pear-flavoured candy and canned pineapple. There is a touch of citrus in the way of lime and a hint of black pepper too.
The attack too contains a great deal of yellow fruit: apricot, banana, pear and even melon. There is green pepper and asparagus in there and this is held together with a lime cordial feel which runs the show without playing a major role. The body is creamy, buttery and rather thick and goes onto a finish which hints at chalk but never goes there and shows off some lovely sage and peppermint on the finest.
A very ripe and appealing Erstes Gewächs. Entering drinking now, this wine is likely to impress for the next ten years or so. Not quite as bold and fruity as Weil’s Kiedrich Gräfenberg 2011, the mineral notes are not as prominent as those in Johannisberg’s 2011 Silberlack. The three make up my personal favourite 2011 Erstes Gewächs wines.
I’ve covered almost the entire Schloss Johannisberg portfolio when it comes to dry wines over the years. Gelblack, Weisslack, Rotlack and even the prestigious Silberlack GG. What I’d never managed to try were the sweet wines: Rosalack and Rosa-Goldlack. Thankfully this changed a few weeks back and I was able to check out the 2012 Rosalack Auslese.
A few words to Schloss Johannisberg: the Rheingau estate is one of the world’s most prestigious wineries and is widely accepted as the oldest Riesling-winery in Germany. Its Schloss Johannisberg vineyard is a Grosse Lage (Grand Cru site) and the wines that emerge from it often act as the flagship products of the entire region. Whereas a handful of other Rheingau estates have catered for modern, changing tastes over the years, Johannisberg has been able to stay true to its traditional approach to winemaking alongside perhaps only three or four other German wineries: all of those in the Mosel.
The Schloss Johannisberg vineyard is a completely south-facing slope with the highest amount of sun hours and sun energy in the Rheingau. Protected by woodland in the North from cold winds, the vineyard’s quartz-laden soils are able to soak up the sun and moisture and store it making this a prime location to grow Riesling. The Rhine runs along the southernmost perimeter of the vineyard.
Lemon yellow with a shiny gold tint.
Once you get past the woody, rocky aroma that lies on top of the wine for a few minutes after opening, a world of citrus fruit is waiting to be discovered. Lime cordial was the first thing I was reminded of – sugary lime syrup. There was also lemon peel, grapefruit and a whole host of exotic spices to discover: cinnamon, coriander and cloves – a bit Christmassy I suppose.
The attack was quick strong and very citrus-driven. The lime didn’t come through as much as the lemon and a thick sense of sweet lemon juice and Clementine took the wine onto a smooth, sweet, balanced body of yellow fruit: quince, pear and even a touch of something exotic: mango. The acidity was there but was excellently balanced with the fruit. The finish was long and sweet and only contained a very faint hint of wood – this contained the spice elements from the nose and played, thankfully, only a background role.
As avid readers will already know, I’m an impatient man – this isn’t a wine to be opened now and, being completely honest, I wouldn’t normally be able to afford such luxuries – (nearly 40€ for a 375ml bottle). There is a great deal of aging to happen here which will relax the fruit, moderate the acidity even more and push those spices even further into the background. There are signs that this will, in eight-ten years, be one of the best sweet wines from the Rheingau. It’s brilliant now but will be even better then. Such finesse and balancing of fruit and acidity is rare in such a young wine and hopefully, in 2025, I might be able to try it again!
A few weeks ago, I posted a review of the 2010 non-Erstes Gewächs Kiedrich Gräfenberg only to have to inform you that the wine no longer exists in that format. Feeling a bit guilty about posting a review on a wine that is seldom available, I popped back down to the wine store and purchased the 2011 Erstes Gewächs (the then Rheingau equivalent of today’s Grosses Gewächs).
I was expecting much of the same: succulent fruit and metallic minerals and, whilst these were present in the wine, they were presented ever so slightly differently (click here for my review of the 2010 non-Erstes Gewächs). Gräfenberg is one of both the Rheingau and Germany’s finest vineyards – it consistently yields fantastic wine year after year and this 2011er is no exception.
Green apples and slightly-unripe pear on the nose together with quince and a whole bunch of highland herbs.
The attack is rather sharp at first with lime, gooseberry and green apple. The body incorporates those notes and takes them onto rhubarb and even more pear. This is all rounded off with a big show of Rheingau flair: quartz, metallic aromas, a hint of wood and lots of fresh herbs such as sage and rosemary – there was also a hint at something menthol: spearmint perhaps.
A far more spice-intense wine than the non-Erstes Gewächs, this wine is more ‘Rheingau’ in style. Like Schloss Johannisberg’s Silberlack, this feels like the main characteristic of the wine is the elegantly-presented spice and mineral side. Whilst the fruit is excellent and those green apples really shine through the entire product, the fruit is relaxed, less sweet and more background noise than wine-shaping.
Whereas German wine classification is very similar to that of the French region of Burgundy when it comes to top, VDP-member produce, one Rheingau winery also makes a high-quality Riesling based on the ideals of Bordeaux: the best fruit is selected from the winery’s vineyards regardless of which individual site it came from. This wine has a bit of a cult following. Through its reliance on high-quality fruit rather than being linked to one high-quality site, the wine is much larger than any single-estate wine might manage.
In fact the very name of the wine “Riesling Spätlese Trocken” is frowned upon by the VDP elite. Whereas it is perfectly just to name this wine so (it isn’t derived from one single site or commune officially making it a VDP Gutswein), the VDP is doing its best to rid dry wines of Prädikat declarations and wants to label all dry wines (regardless of fruit quality) Qualitätswein Trocken.
The nose is full of sweet and sharp yellow fruit: lemon, apples, apricot, banana, pineapple and more. There is a unique feel of eucalyptus and green tea in there as well.
The attack is characterised by sharp lemon juice but quickly goes on to lots of fruit: apple then pear then stone fruit in the way of both nectarine and apricot. The finish is rather large: lots of minerals including quartz, granite and some wet wood.
This is a great wine: I’ve always been a big fan of Geheimrat J but after the thinner, more-composed elements of single-estate wines, it is a welcome reintroduction to the theoretical power of Riesling. Amazing with even the hottest of Asian foods, this wine earns its cult following.
Schloss Johannisberg is one of both Germany’s and the Rheingau’s most important producers. It’s famous Rieslings can be found in fine wine stores all over the world. The charismatic wines with all of the typical Rheingau flair are well-known for their modern appeal and classic style. Alongside the winery’s flagship Silberlack Grosses Gewächs, a handful of other wines are also produced by the winery: their classification levels hidden behind a colour scheme rather than the traditional Prädikat names.
The company has launched a new entry-level wine to retail alongside its unique Gelblack series. Weisslack is a simple Qualitätswein with none of the base wine having seen wood: about 10% of Gelblack lies in wood before the final wine is released. It is aimed at the gastronomy sector rather than retail so you might be seeing this wine at a restaurant near you soon.
Rather fresh, behind the floral youth notes, the wine shows a lovely selection of stone fruit: mainly nectarine and apricot. There is lime juice and a faint sense of earthy slate.
The attack isn’t as sharp as was predicted: nice lemon and lime juice notes with a hint of nectarine ran through into the body and was joined by a handful of other exotic fruits such as pineapple and kiwi. The finish was rather clean-cut: neat and kind to the palate: remarkably dry and yet no wood, no bitterness and a slight hint at white pepper.
A clean and tidy wine. Where I love the other Johannisberger wines, they are a whole lot more powerful in the way of finish: they show off the Rheingau soils like no other producer and yet this wine appeals even though it doesn’t really do that. It feels like a solid Gutswein should: it’s evidently Rheingau and yet opens up the specialist category of Riesling from this region to other drinkers. This feels like it might just be the perfect wine to simple Asian cuisine.
Robert Weil is one of the Rheingau’s best-known producers. Alongside the fabulous wines from its and some of the Rheingau’s best individual vineyards, the winery is also famous for its basic Gutsweine and Ortsweine sourced, in the case of the former from fruit all over the region and, in the latter, the grapes that grow around Kiedrich.
Its most famous product and the one it receives most admiration for is the dry Grosses Gewächs from the wonderful vineyard of Gräfenberg in Kiedrich. Whereas the wines have only been labelled as either Erstes Gewächs or Grosses Gewächs for a few years now, Riesling fermented from grapes grown in the vineyard has been a highlight of the Weil assortment for decades. This dry Riesling is a perfect example of the potential this vineyard can offer in good years and with a few years in the cellar.
Unfortunately, this exact wine isn’t made anymore – only GG (dry Grosse Lage) and Grosse Lage wines can be found and they’re a tad more expensive – some of the priciest Grand Cru in all of Germany in fact. Nevertheless, a few bottles are still hanging around and it does have certain parallels with the new GG wines in terms of style and fruit.
White Gold – light sense of peachy colour.
Lots of orchard fruit on the nose: Nashi pear, golden delicious apples and a hint of quince. Behind that is a touch of petrol, a hint at stone fruit and a whole lot of metallic minerals.
On the attack is sweet lemon juice and this goes onto some nice nectarine body. The body slides into a long, smooth finish which touches on metal and rock and yet never quite gets there. The smoothness is unparalleled for a dry wine with this much acidity: it simply slips down hitting every imaginable yellow fruit along the way. Despite its acidity (which isn’t unpleasant in the least), the wine is very easy to drink and dangerously moreish.
A true Rheingauer: lots of mineral structure and it holds the wine together. However the individual notes of minerality are seldom on main stage – they prop up the fruit which takes a foreground role and shapes the wine.
Schloss Johannisberg is one of Germany’s most famous producers. Found in fine wine stores the world over, it is commonly accredited with having invented or indeed first utilised the classic wine classification scheme: it was probably the first producer to create Spätlese wines and, whilst the modern classification laws have changed, its most impressive dry wines still are produced in this way. The winery however uses colouration to distinguish between the traditional categories: Qualitätswein (Gelblack), Kabinett (Rotlack), Grünlack (Spätlese), Rosalack (Auslese), and so on…a clever move when you consider that all dry wines produced by VDP wineries are no longer allowed to carry their Prädikat. Their top dry wine is Silberlack (Spätlese quality grapes) and carries today the illustrious GG or VDP GROSSES GEWÄCHS® title. Before 2012, a handful of vintages carried the Rheingau-specific 'Erstes Gewächs' title.
The Rheingau is very special in Germany. Whereas it is one of three/four specialist production regions for Riesling and pretty much Riesling alone, its wines are rather different. Whereas the Pfälzer wines are all about powerful citrus fruit and the Mosel and Nahe wines about delicate, floral structures, Rheingau has always been about minerality. This makes some Rheingau wines feel a little dated and out-of-flavour but, when a producer does it properly like a handful of them do, Rheingau wines have just as much modern appeal as their compatriots.
Bright, bold gold.
The nose was rather full: lots of yellow and green fruit. Particularly apples, pears and quince. Stone fruit was in there too and so was exotic pineapple and mango. There was a lovely herbal feel as well paired with white pepper.
The attack was rather sharp: driven lemon juice but also ripe apple and pear. The quince note took over the body of the wine which occasionally hinted at peach and banana. The finish was a wonderful mixture of fresh herbs (particularly thyme) and white pepper. This carried on for a while and made for an excellent swansong for the bold yellow fruit.
For a wine approaching four years of age, what was most astonishing was that the wine showed almost no age whatsoever. It could’ve been just filled and I wouldn’t have noticed. Nevertheless, despite feeling closed on some notes, it was surprisingly open elsewhere. Its boldness might indeed be an acquired taste but mixed with that precise yellow fruit and unforgettable finish, this is a wine that is likely to get better in the next five years or so.
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
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-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry